It should be spring but for Arsenal it seems like the fall season is here. Arsenal have picked up 22 points in 2014 – the same as West Ham and one less than Man United. And that is largely down to the three wins at the start of the year as the last 11 games have resulted in just 13 points.
It’s not just a matter of points. The team seems bereft of ideas in attack and regressing to defensive errors they’d worked very hard to solve. The struggles of the unit/system are also having a noticeable adverse effect on individual performances. Far too many players are underperforming. This drop in performances is the bigger concern because it hasn’t felt like the Gunners deserved anything more than they got. If anything, they’ve been lucky to get away with a few points when not playing particularly well.
In a way, Everton really benefitted from Arsenal’s slide. I thought the Toffees actually played better in the game at the Emirates than they did in this one. But they produced more decisive moments at home and deserved the three points even if it was made easy for them. It seems the ‘Be a Gooner, Be a Giver’ campaign is back as Wenger’s players were quite generous with their gifts.
The spacing between the lines going awry, opponents getting a lot of time on the ball in dangerous areas, defenders not taking responsibility, individuals conceding possession cheaply and running into blind alleys, and other chronic issues have all returned in varying degrees.
I still can’t believe Vermaelen let that ball run across the face of his goal. What was he thinking? Was he thinking?! Monreal has struggled in individual battles throughout the season and was again exposed repeatedly. Flamini lacked discipline, Arteta pace. Both made many poor choices. Podolski had moments where he sparked to life and large phases of being a deadweight. Almost everyone else was also below par.
At the moment, my biggest concern is that Arsenal seem incapable of getting much from a game if they don’t score first and the possibility of things getting even worse is very real. It’s intricately linked to the inability to defend higher up the pitch. Either the opponents get in behind or the lines are stretched. In either case the goal is exposed. And more often than not it’s been pretty easy for any team with decent quality that most of the top sides possess.
Ramsey’s return was the only positive but it may yet turn out to be a false one. Hopefully, the Welshman hasn’t been rushed and will remain fit till the end of the season. Fingers crossed.
Wigan – The season depends on the Cup
Winning the FA Cup can still make this season a memorable one. If nothing else, it will get a very pesky and constantly growing monkey off Arsenal’s back. It’s been big enough for the last few seasons that it can make getting up after disappointments that much harder. It also slows the team down drastically when they lose momentum.
Ergo, even though I generally don’t care much about results in domestic cup competitions, it’s definitely something that can salvage this season to an extent.
I haven’t seen Wigan play a full game this season but did catch most of their triumph over City and parts of their close win over Leeds last weekend. They are not very different from the side that won the Cup last season and many of their players are still there. In that sense, the Gunners might find it relatively easier to prepare for this game than if they’d come up against a completely unknown opponent from the lower divisions.
Last season’s loses to Blackburn and Bradford were extremely disappointing. Wenger’s side found it very hard to break through a couple of deep-lying, organized, and committed defences. This game will be similar but I doubt Wigan will have the same quality of organization. I think they make up for it through more energetic defending that involves a lot of chasing but Arsenal should be able to get past their first line of defence more often than they did against the two lower division sides last season.
That being said, the Latics will have no trouble defending their goal if the Gunners don’t gel as a unit. The attack needs more ideas, coordination, and invention. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey could be vital.
Wenger also has to find a way to ensure his team does not concede the first goal. It’ll mostly be about avoiding individual mistakes but they must also remain compact as a unit. Hopefully, the central defenders will feel a tad more confident when defending higher up the pitch because if they are able to push up and compress the field, it makes the pressing job that much easier for other players.
Wenger will probably have to go with his strongest eleven and hope that they can deliver. There isn’t much scope for resting players.
We might see,
Fabianski – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey – AOC, Giroud, Rosicky.
Kallstrom is an option. I don’t know how he’s done in training so it’s hard to say he should start. Sanogo could also be an interesting, if risky, choice as Giroud has been off the boil. Gibbs or Koscielny being fit would help.
A win in this game can still set up a decent-ish end to the season. I don’t think the team will recover from a defeat and the run in could become unbearable. Unfortunately, both outcomes seem equally likely at the moment because first of all the Gunners have to compete with themselves (lack of confidence, individual errors, etc.) and win that battle. It could be a bloody one that isn’t pleasant to watch. So, to be on the safe side, I’m going to skip watching this live. Good luck to the Gunners and everyone who’s decided to brave it out.Follow @goonerdesi